Stephen A. Lasher, a senior member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors (BOV), lived fully, loved deeply and held a special place in his heart for the physician-scientists who are pursuing a new standard of care for patients with leukemia.
The devoted golfer, fisherman and world traveler, who co-founded GulfStar Group Investment Bankers and Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land, died Aug. 1. He was 73. Survivors include his wife, Janiece Longoria; son, Andrew, and wife, Melissa; daughter, Kit Ballenger, and husband, Matt; and five grandchildren.
Lasher, a 17-year survivor of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), joined the BOV in 2008. Earlier this year, he expressed his gratitude to his MD Anderson care team by committing a $1 million gift to support CLL research. In a turn of irony, Lasher did not succumb to CLL. Through the continued advancement in therapies driven by groundbreaking research, he continued to enjoy life and health through a durable remission of his disease. Instead he developed metastatic melanoma, from a recurrence of the disease after a lesion was surgically removed in 2018.
Half of Lasher’s legacy gift will endow a CLL Moon Shot® fund named in honor of Michael Keating, M.B., B.S., clinical professor of Leukemia, one of the founding leaders of the CLL Moon Shot and the first doctor at MD Anderson to treat Lasher for the disease. The endowment will provide a permanent source of funding for the CLL Moon Shot. The other half will support work led by Philip Thompson, M.B., B.S., assistant professor of Leukemia, to evaluate potential new treatments for Richter’s syndrome, an aggressive form of CLL that remains one of the greatest challenges facing leukemia patients and clinicians. Before his death, Lasher expressed his profound thanks to Keating and Thompson for their excellent care during his many years of remission from the disease and for the importance of continued breakthroughs in research.
“MD Anderson has been so fortunate to have benefited from Steve’s deep and committed engagement on our Board of Visitors,” says Darrow Zeidenstein, Ph.D., MD Anderson senior vice president and chief development officer. “He understood keenly that his role as a board member was to provide his time, talents and treasure to advance MD Anderson’s mission, and he did so in remarkable ways. We will all miss Steve and the valuable perspective he brought to our Board of Visitors.”
Just as Lasher took calculated risks to build his successful businesses, he took the same approach with his support for MD Anderson’s high-risk, high-reward Richter’s syndrome project, Thompson says. “Through his generous contribution to our research, we are uniquely placed to understand the biological underpinnings of response and resistance and to design better combination therapies, bringing cure within reach for this devastating disease.”
Danielle Walsh, CLL Moon Shot scientific director, says the gift will support work begun by Keating and continued now by William Wierda, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Leukemia.
“With support from the Lasher endowment, we will be able to address unmet needs of our patients, including immune dysfunction and relapsed or refractory CLL disease,” Walsh says. “We are beyond grateful to Mr. Lasher for his generosity and humbled to carry on his legacy for patients with CLL.”